Who says there are no solutions for Gaza? Must Israel resign itself to getting blasted with more than a thousand rockets, as happened this month?
Of course not. Here are the answers:
- Bomb Gaza back into the last century. Or the one before that.
- Send in the army to recapture Gaza, and kill every last Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorist there.
- Demand that the United Nations do something to stop this.
- Make tough threats and strong statements to restore deterrence.
Work toward a regional solution that includes permanent borders for Israel and the Palestinians, while supporting the Israelis living in rocket range with subsidies, infrastructure, and opportunities.
You see where I’m going with this, but let’s go down the list anyway.
Why doesn't Israel carpet-bomb Gaza?
Calls to carpet-bomb Gaza come from frustrated, frightened Israelis who suffer from frequent rocket barrages. Their lives are literal hell, with rockets raining down on them periodically, and the threat of rockets raining down on them a constant part of their existence. It’s debilitating. Many are in therapy, especially children.
“Escaping” to the north every time there’s a flare-up like this month’s with Palestinian Islamic Jihad is an emergency option, but it accentuates the trauma instead of treating it.
There are two problems with the “bomb Gaza” scenario. First, it wouldn’t work, because there are 2 million people in Gaza, give or take, and the world would never permit Israel to target civilians en masse. Second, and more important, Israel would never do such a thing, because it wouldn’t. I respond to specious charges of Israeli “genocide” by pointing out that the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza grows from year to year, so Israelis are “so bad at genocide, it’s as if they’re not even trying.”
Why doesn't Israel retake Gaza?
So how about retaking Gaza and going door to door killing terrorists? One of the extremists in Israel’s government is calling for that. That, too, would exact an unacceptably heavy toll among Palestinian civilians, as well as an unacceptably heavy toll among Israeli soldiers.
Anyway, it’s been tried. Israel’s military controlled the Gaza Strip until 2005, hunting terrorists, but it wasn’t exactly pastoral and bucolic. Settlers there wailed every day that they were under attack. “Buses” were trucks with thick concrete for sides to counter expected gunfire. Israeli soldiers had a base in the middle of the huge Jabaliya refugee camp and came under fire every day. So did army patrols.
Back then, my son was on army reserve duty in Gaza, and I called him from our home in central Israel. There were sounds of explosions and “gunfire” on my end, and I reminded him that it was Purim, a holiday marked by costumes and noise. “Dad,” he replied, “down here, every day is Purim.”
Why doesn't the UN get involved to save Gaza?
OK, so how about getting the UN involved? There was actually a call for that in an Israeli newspaper.
That’s the same UN that held a Nakba Day commemoration just after the latest flare-up ended, endorsing the view that the creation of the State of Israel was a “catastrophe.” It’s the same UN that perpetuates the Palestinian refugee issue with a dedicated agency unlike any other that passes refugee status from generation to generation, awaiting the opportunity to “return home” in place of Israel. So no.
That brings us to tough talk. It works if anyone cares. But in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians have been subjected to decades of socialization, what people today call a “narrative,” in which Israel is the ultimate evil, and it is praiseworthy both socially and religiously to die for the cause of uprooting that evil.
Israel used to talk about “teaching them a lesson,” if they’re bashed hard enough, the Palestinians will learn that it isn’t worth the cost. It never worked. All the tough talk just reverberates around the region and dissipates. There is no deterrence when violence and death are their own reward.
That leaves us, as expected, with the last option.
How to solve the Gaza problem
After all the fighting and all the failed peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, there will be no bilateral solution. The Palestinians turned down two Israeli offers of a state in the equivalent of all of the West Bank and Gaza with a link through Israeli territory and parts of Jerusalem—in other words, their own demands—in 2000 and 2008.
So a solution will have to be part of a regional realignment. It appeared that the Arab Spring might be the beginning, but it failed. Now there are new political winds blowing in that direction.
There are the Abraham Accords, which feature official relations between Israel and several Arab nations, adding to Israel’s decades-old peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. These reflect the Arab realization that the sun does not rise and set over the Palestinians alone.
More recently, there is a thawing of relations between bitter ideological and religious rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the entrance of China as an active player in regional politics.
Israel needs to get on board and take part because this array could well conclude that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a tiny burr under the Mideast saddle and must be removed.
That means a settlement imposed on both sides. Israel cooperating from the inside could assure coordination with the other parties, not conflict.
The result won’t meet the maximum demands of either side, and it won’t be peace—but it will draw a recognized border between Israel and whatever Palestinian entity emerges, and backing from the Arab world if steps need to be taken to ensure Israel’s security.
That’s a long-term vision. In the meantime, many thousands of Israelis live in the nearest rocket-fire zone around Gaza. The traumatized, frustrated citizens deserve the support of the rest of the country—not only when rockets are falling, but especially when they aren’t.
Jewish settlers in the West Bank get incentives and tax breaks, so Israelis who live along the borders deserve much more. Businesses should be getting infrastructure and incentives to set up shop, including reinforced structures to house them.
Despite the periodic rocket barrages, most people keep going back home. Those who leave are replaced by newcomers, and communities near Gaza are actually growing, despite the dangers. This trend needs to be supported, spiritually and monetarily.
That would make the long wait for an international solution to the Gaza problem a bit less painful.
Mark Lavie has been covering the Middle East for major news outlets since 1972. His second book, Why Are We Still Afraid?, which follows his five-decade career and comes to a surprising conclusion, is available on Amazon.